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Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  732 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews
In this hard-hitting memoir, Fred Burton, a key figure in international counterterrorism and domestic spycraft, emerges from the shadows to reveal who he is, what he has accomplished, and the threats that lurk unseen except by an experienced, worldly-wise few. Plunging readers into the murky world of violent religious extremism that spans the streets of Middle Eastern citi ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2008)
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Resonance
Ghost had some interesting contents. For people who have read espionage 'nonfiction' there will be things everyone's read several times -- discussions of dead drops, brush passes, surveillance and evasion. There's a couple of intriguing passages that I haven't read anywhere else -- especially speculation about the death/assassination of Zia in Pakistan. And the book brings back a lot of memories about how we viewed terrorism in the 80s.

However, the book is short, and quite short on details, whi
...more
Stefanie
Jan 25, 2012 Stefanie rated it liked it
Where to begin with this book?

Fascinating content, candid description of how a the US counter-terrorism portion of the diplomatic service originally had 3 overworked agent, 2 of them fresh out of training. Interesting anecdotes about the writer's career.

However, two huge flaws:
(1) Cluttered writing
The author repeats himself ad nauseum - the type of warm jacket he wears, the car he drives, the fact that he sees the world as black and white and the nature of his work is shades of gray.

(2) No narra
...more
Christian Barraza
Aug 09, 2011 Christian Barraza rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
At first the premise for the book seemed appealing. Hearing about the life of a counterterrorism agent directly from the source seemed appealing. Like all books written by intelligence officers, it is understood that certain things just cannot be said or talked about for fear of it affecting current operations. This is a real story after all. Still, I jumped at the chance to read it not really sure what to expect. What I got was a bit dissapointing. It's intriguing to see what the author goes th ...more
Carol
Jul 11, 2013 Carol rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read it all the way through because I'm really curious about the human equation in the world of the spook. I learned little of any depth, so don't expect an exposé. No depth of feeling or learning by the author.
Cindy
May 03, 2014 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fred Burton, former spy & agent is very informative, touching, frightening & comforting. Reader, Tom Weiner, is clear, a rarity for deep voices. Recommended. 2008 ...more
Kerilotion
Sep 30, 2011 Kerilotion rated it it was ok
Interesting but hated the way it was written.. How many different ways can you say the same damn thing?!
Bruce Thomas
Details of Fred Burton's career in the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service include the rough 1980's when middle eastern terror was beginning to blossom. This is a great reminder of how many of these middle easterners want us dead. Burton seems to embellish some and whines a lot about his personal sacrifices due to his career choice - which is annoying. He has to constantly mention his Italian moleskin journal and his Barbour Beaufort jacket, which is also annoying. I did learn that ...more
Mark Young
Feb 17, 2011 Mark Young rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11 when we came under attack. That moment in history will never be forgotten. Everything changed for America—and the world—on that day. The devastation hurled upon us by nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists was an act of war. Tragically, counterterrorism experts around the world knew terrorists would try to strike like this. Agents also knew they might not be able stop it. They were right.

Most of us will never know how many times potential tragedies like the World
...more
Jerome
Oct 11, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Author Fred Burton reveals the sinister realities of the global counterterrorism game in a very serious, readable, unpretentious way. The book is devoid of the ego-tripping and grandstanding that a lot of these memoirs suffer from (i.e. books like "Jawbreaker" etc.).

I wasn't expecting tales of hair-raising takedowns of terrorists in some Beirut slum or gun battles with Iranian agents in some Middle Eastern embassy, so if you're some ignorant film junkie who thinks that's what counterterrorism is
...more
Tom
Apr 10, 2016 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I sifted through the reviews, most of them seemed to be positive. The people enjoyed the book liked the human look at US intelligence. Readers also enjoyed hearing about covert operations from a first person perspective. However, a sizable percentage of readers didn't appreciate the vast amount of references, code names, and confusing character roles in the book. Personally, I think the book was excellent. Fred Burton described his role in the DSS, an agency I didn't even know existed until n ...more
Gary
Jan 20, 2015 Gary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by one of the founding agents of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service’s (DSS) Counter-terrorism Division, this memoir reveals the shadowy contours of global terrorism and its shift from state sponsored attacks to the more decentralized activities of the Al-Qaeda network. Fred Burton provides a window into the working life of a professional field agent attempting to navigate these turbulent waters from their success taking down the first World Trade Centre bomber, or th ...more
Shannon
The information presented is interesting and Burton has worked some major cases, which is the only reason I scored the book it as highly as I did. However, Burton is not a good writer. He is a self-congratulatory cowboy who uses cutesy nicknames ("The Dark World" for anything spy-related, for example) that make it hard to take him seriously. He doesn't try to present a nuanced view of terrorism. The terrorists are all bad, he is ostensibly all good, and that's the end of it as far as he's concer ...more
Zach Vaughn
Fred Burton was a counterterrorism agent for the Diplomatic Security Service and was involved in investigating some of the worst acts of terrorism in U.S. history from 1986 to 1995.

In Ghost, he recounts three specific investigations: the Lebanon hostage crisis (later revealed as part of the Iran-Contra scandal), the bombing of PAK-1 which lead to the death of Pakistani President Zia, the Lockerbie bombing, and the hunt for Ramzi Yousef - mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and othe
...more
Lisa A. Carlson
Jul 21, 2015 Lisa A. Carlson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa A. by: local library
Shelves: memoir
Former Deputy Chief of DSS (Diplomatic Security Service) and Maryland police officer Fred Burton writes superbly about his entrance into this little known department in 1985 and how he became familiar with the threat in the Middle East. The pieces of Ghost make sense if you've read anything about the dysfunction in the Middle East and the bombings in Beirut in 1983. These events foreshadowed America's future attacks and the average American (you and I) had no idea what was coming. Burton's book ...more
Gonzalo
Aug 31, 2009 Gonzalo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 11th-grade
This is the first book i've read this summer, it's really interesting and it's a memoir by Fred Burton, who was recruited in the DSS and was assigned to it's counter-terrorism branch. Fred Burton at the time was surprised because counter-terrorism wasn't that big of a thing back then in the 70's but then as you read through the book you could see the growth of counter-terrorism and how the tactics used evolved. And you can also see Fred's expertise increases. You will see how both Fred Burton an ...more
Nathan
Oct 15, 2012 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating. I never knew (probably because I was a kid) that Libya was such a threat to the US in the 80's. Very interesting to hear about the conflicts and attacks that continually popped up in the Middle East against the US. There was one chapter about India and Pakistan almost going to war when most of the Pakistani governing body died in a plane crash that I had never even heard about. The book is well written and gives a good overview of the DSS. (Special treat was near the e ...more
David
Nov 09, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is similar in tone to another book I just completed: The Art of Intelligence by Henry Crumpton. Both authors see the world they live in in black and white terms. There are good people and there are evil, and it's up to them to stop the evil ones. They are soldiers on the front line of the intelligence war on terror; Crumpton with the CIA and Fred Burton with the counter-terrorism unit at the US State Department. Both men view politicians and bureaucrats as being more interested in prot ...more
Brian Eshleman
I enjoyed this book as a reminder that trouble with terrorism did not start on 9/11 and that self-sacrificing heroes, known and unknown, are used for the security we can so easily take for granted. Looking at this world through the author's eyes, I think this book is somewhat impacted by his stiff personality and at least slight trend toward self-aggrandizement. At least the occasional Kennedyesque self-deprecation that he took his job seriously and not himself would have gone a long way.

The sec
...more
Jim
Jan 28, 2009 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting foray into the dark world of counterintelligence by a member of the DSS. They protect US diplomats and embassies, as wel as visiting dignitaries, and Burton was on the groundfloor of antiterrorist activities. It scares you when you see how ill-equipped we were to handle the emerging terrorist threats. This book focuses mostly on the 80s and early 90s: the hostage crisis in Lebanon, the Libyans, the assassination of Pakistani leader Zia, Lockerbie, and the first WTC bombing, and th ...more
Linda
The former deputy of DSS, a counter-terrorism group in the State Department, provides an overview of his time as a spook. In the first part, he describes his first few months on the job at this new agency in the mid-1980's; in the second part, he provides a veteran's view, having been on the job more that 7 years; and in the third part, after he has left government service, he considers how the job demanded it be his top priority (over his family and friends), what triggered his leaving the DSS, ...more
J
Nov 15, 2015 J rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Non-fiction but well written (apparently without ghost writer) account of a career in U.S. government surveillance and "HUMINT" (jargon for human intelligence).

Covers some key events in recent history ('88 downing of plane bearing Pakistan's Zia, first bombing of WTC in '93).

Not too long or too technical. Provides fascinating fundamentals of the the national security spy industry. Shows the industry's evolution into the computer age.

I really appreciated that author Fred Bur
...more
Andrew
An interesting look at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We always hear about the CIA, FBI, and even the Secret Service, but the DSS gets no press even though they operate in every country we have diplomatic ties to and with in the USA. Had Some insights into tradecraft such as how to stairstep to avoid surveillance, but nothing too enlightening. Additionally, the book seemed to have no climax and wasn't going anywhere as far as story. Then it kind of abruptly ended with the funeral of the ...more
Nadir
Jul 24, 2010 Nadir rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mid-east-affairs
This book is interesting for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the author is from the State Department's security service, rather than the FBI or the CIA. In that there is a unique perspective.

The book actually focuses on the pre-9/11 efforts to combat terrorism, and so takes us back to the days of American hostages in Lebanon, Libya and Iran's state-sponsored efforts, and in the author's opinion, some Soviet efforts against the Pakistanis. While not earth-shattering in any respect, the
...more
Kevin Hanks
May 08, 2013 Kevin Hanks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book and very well written. It made me grateful for guys like him: people who put the safety of us "average citizens" as their top priority. It was fascinating to hear accounts of big international events like Iran Contra, the '93 bombing of the WTC, and the hunting and capturing of terrorist leaders from a man on the front lines and "in the weeds". His writing style is easy to follow and enjoyable. I've been getting Stratfor reports now for years, so I've read plenty of his writing. I ...more
Joseph
May 17, 2009 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed most of this book, a memoir by a former Diplomatic Security Service Agent. Mr. Burton writes in the crisp clear voice of someone who has been there done that and has the T-shirt to prove it.

In highlighting his career Mr. Burton adds depth to my memories of the newspaper coverage of those events but nothing that is really new. The downfall of the book is the last few chapters. In those chapters he falls into that seemingly all to common complaint the 'Bureaucracy' hinder us.

Not a must
...more
Nikki
Feb 10, 2012 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing style of this book is dry at times but the information it contains is very worthy of being read. It is so easy to be critical of the threat assessment processes that we hear about on the news. We grumble about the inconveniences caused us because of security screenings at airports. When the stark reality is that these hard working individuals are expected by us to be 'all knowing' and to catch terrorists before they are able to disrupt our lives. I can't imagine the stress of living ...more
Jesse D.
Feb 18, 2009 Jesse D. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, if you want to know just how long we have been fighting the war on terrorism in America, here's your book. This man, who runs www.stratfor.com, was part of the second group of counter-terrorism agents. There was one man before him and countless have followed in his footsteps and protocols. This gave me an entirely new appreciation of the work our counter-terrorism agents have to do both at home and abroad. Highly recommended. The ONLY reason I gave this four stars was because it left ...more
Doyle
This particular memoir read like an agent’s field report notebook. Most definitely had a few items of hidden history I was not familiar with, but re-iterated what others have said on the topic(s). Especially concerning the terorism events of the 80s and early 90s and ends with the capture of Ramsi Yousef. However, it also shows the personal side of the sacrifice of those who insure we are safer have to make. Definitely worth the read for those interested in tradecraft, intelligence, and counter- ...more
Jena
Jan 19, 2011 Jena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent

Um, yeah. Scariest shit EVER. It's amazing that any of us are alive with all the countries that want to kill every last one of us.

The juxtaposition between the Dan Rather "American Dream" book and this one is kind of freaking me out. All these people come from other countries to America to live the dream, except for the ones who come here to kill us.

Terrifying.
Brinton
Meh - mildly entertaining, fast read. There are some interesting revelations here - not sure how good it is for one to know too much about what's going on in our security community, but don't worry as this only tells you a few good nuggets. Hard to get over Burton's self-congratulatory/important voice, though. His heroic tone and obvious need to make people aware of his formerly secret national security efforts is tough to get past. The book is full of platitudes.
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